INTRODUCTION TO THE CONSERVATION OF THE CLAYTON PORCH AND FRONT ENTRANCE

Clayton, the home of the Frick family in Pittsburgh from 1883–1905, embodies the extravagant, eclectic fashion of the Gilded Age in America and the materials and craftsmanship that exemplify that era.

In collaboration with the architectural firm MacLachlan Cornelius & Filoni and specialist contractors, the Frick is undertaking a large-scale conservation project addressing two prominent features of the facade of Clayton, which date to the 1892 renovation of the home by Pittsburgh architect Frederick J. Osterling: the Penn Avenue entrance area and the Enclosed Front Porch.

The northern approach to the house features cascading sandstone staircases on the east and west sides and a brightly colored, ornamental terrazzo flooring panel at its landing. The stone railing is adorned with a quatrefoil motif that reoccurs throughout the facade of the building, as seen from Penn Avenue. The arcaded front porch, enclosed in 1899, contains an intricate coffered oak ceiling, Corinthian columns, and a marble mosaic floor designed with a fleur-de-lis pattern, attributed to the well-reputed, Pittsburgh-based mosaic artist Achille Giamartini.

The overarching philosophy of this conservation effort is to minimize intervention into the historic surfaces and to employ a combination of historic masonry techniques, science, and innovation to preserve Clayton. The house itself is treated as an artifact, and our goal is to devise methods of treatment that counteract the effects of time and the environment on the structure and the inherent vice of the materials, systems, and techniques used in its construction. Inherent vice is a term conservators and preservationists use to describe the inevitable self-destruct mechanism in materials or combinations of materials in a system that causes them to deteriorate. To a degree, inherent vice is present in virtually all systems and materials and is a determining factor in approaches taken to maintain a building.

Preliminary work includes removal of the stone steps and masonry at the entrance to the house, the addition of steel supports underneath the porch and attendant repairs to adjacent masonry elements. After these structural repairs are complete, the reassembly of the entry steps will be followed by conservation of the flooring surfaces.

MBM Contracting will act as General Contractor for the project and Brace Engineering will provide structural engineering supervision. Materials Conservation, a firm based in Philadelphia, will perform conservation of the historic marble mosaic and terrazzo flooring surfaces. The firm specializes in conservation of historic architecture and has worked on historic homes and world heritage sites such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and The New York Public Library. Mariani & Richards will perform masonry restoration of the historic stonework. They received a restoration and preservation award from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworks (BAC) for their work on St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh.